Sweep & Scoop

Rod tip low to keep big fish from rubbing off.
The sweep begins…

When I first starting fly fishing, I remember being told numerous times “rod tip up”. It was drilled home for good reason: it led to more landed fish. Anglers know this simply means applying continuous pressure with the rod at 45 degrees or higher to ensure line pressure keeps the hook set. New anglers quickly learn that a straight rod and taught line to the fish is bad news, leading to popped hooks or snapped tippet.

I was similar to many anglers in that I fished with others often. The majority of my first fish were landed for me by my hubbie Dave, until I felt confident enough to control the rod, the line and the net by myself. We all learn to use the rod and reel, and as you gain experience landing smaller fish gets easier. These simply don’t have the weight and strength to make netting them yourself much of a big deal. The exceptions begin when you get a really hot trout in a fast current, but the reality is that with small fish the angler usually has the upper hand. I land almost all of my own Alberta trout, be it good browns, rainbows, cutts, bulls, or brookies.

Side sweep
focus on sideways pressure rather than lifting.

I started pursuing larger trout a few years back. I began to see how controlling and netting these fish on my own required a few more tactics, especially when it comes to avoiding hazards in the river. When we first travelled to New Zealand to catch large browns, Dave or our guide, now friend, Serge did the netting for me and I was happy with that. I still am on occasion as the netter gets to engage in the moment with you. It adds to the fun factor. Of course there are times when big fish decide to bolt for logs, willows, and undercuts and without another person there to scare them out of those spots, you’ve got little to no chance of bringing the fish to hand. There are often too many factors to control on one’s own. The flip side is that there’s always the risk that when you let another person net your fish something will go wonky – either by the angler’s or netter’s action – and the fish is lost. The netter tends to bear the guilt and feels responsible for the lost fish, though in many cases it isn’t their fault. You can avoid this by landing your own fish.

After my second trip to NZ I decided it was time to complete the whole sequence of hooking, fighting and netting fish myself. I’d watched Dave do this many times and I simply had to give it a go on my own. There’s serious self-satisfaction in completing an entire sequence yourself no matter what in life you pursue. There is a tactic that Dave has used for years and it works well for him – the “sweep and scoop.” The simple concept is that trout in rivers don’t want to be lifted upward, vertically through the water column. By fighting trout with a straight raised up rod, they feel the upward pressure and resist at all costs.

Side sweep
Streamside vegetation makes the side sweep tougher but it’s better than fighting the heavy current

Instead, the sweep and scoop tactic is completed by a sweeping sideways motion with the rod. Apply a taught pressure to the rod, keeping it to one side or another of your body. If the fish is upstream we like to keep the rod to our bankside’s shoulder as we face upstream; if the fish is downstream we turn to face downstream and again keep the rod to our bankside’s shoulder. Of course, if there are high banks or trees in your way, this is tough to do. We find it best to have your body positioned downstream of the fish, bringing the fish downstream to you with the current. We keep the rod parallel to the water’s surface at about waist to chest height and keep a constant pressure. Our rods are usually keeled over and getting a good work out! The fish is slowly brought laterally through the water column as it’s most comfortable. The applied sideways pressure pulls the fish through the current into a slack eddy or flat. We continue the sweeping motion with consistent pressure. As it nears netting distance we pop its head up and scoop it into the net, head first. It’s a good technique and one that’s worked time and again.

Side sweep
keep the rod parallel to the water in the side sweep

I hope this encourages anyone who might have left the netting of their fish to others. Give it a go on your own! Good results will come! Even if you lose one or two, it’s only incentive to get out more often. 

Amelia Jensen

2 thoughts on “Sweep & Scoop

  • May 10, 2015 at 1:38 pm
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    Absolutely solid information and astounding that so many anglers–and guides–do not know or understand this. There’s a variation on this that’s also extremely effective; it was described to me decades ago by Bill Hunter when he had his fly shop in New Boston, NH. Bill was a seasoned Atlantic salmon fisherman, but this technique is also very effective on spring creeks or anywhere you are using lighter tackle for larger fish. You must be downstream from the fish. You pressure the fish from the side, rod parallel to the water, exactly as described, until you turn it’s head sidewards to the direction of the pull. Then you flip the rod 180 degrees and pressure it to the opposite side until you have done the same, and repeat. (Despite what you might think, the fish will rarely shake the hook.) This causes the fish to become dizzy, much like spinning us around on a table-top. You can land a large fish on light tackle very quickly this way, I rarely have a fish turned more than twice in each direction before it just begins to drift downstream to me. Again, keeping the rod low & parallel to the water is critical, do not lift until you are landing the fish. This is a valuable trick to have up your sleeve anytime you’re fishing say, 3 pound plus trout on 6 or 7 X off a 3 or 4 weight rod. But Hunter also used it to land a 30 pound Restigouche salmon (that hung in his shop) off an 8 weight rod. When I see rods high in the air & doubled over on my home waters in Montana I shake my head. Kudos to an accomplished angler here for her insights !

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